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Do You Hate Seeing People Fidget? New UBC Research Says You’re Not Alone

Approximately one-third of the population suffer from misokinesia—or the “hatred of movements”

Do you get anxious, annoyed, or frustrated when you see others fidget? If so, you may suffer from misokinesia—or the “hatred of movements.”

According to new University of British Columbia (UBC) research, approximately one-third of the population suffer from the psychological phenomenon, which is defined by a strong negative emotional response to the sight of someone else’s small and repetitive movements. 

“This study is the first of its kind on misokinesia,” says lead author Sumeet Jaswal, a PhD student in UBC’s department of psychology. “Surprisingly, scientific research on the topic has been lacking.”

For the study, the researchers conducted three separate experiments, which involved a total of 4,100 participants. They asked participants to self-report whether they have sensitivities to seeing people fidget as well as assessed the emotional and social impacts of the phenomenon. 

The researchers found that one-third of the participants felt sensitivities when they see others fidget.

“These participants were negatively impacted emotionally and experience reactions such as anger, anxiety, or frustration,” says the study’s senior author Dr. Todd Handy, a UBC psychology professor. “They were also negatively impacted socially and report difficulty and reduced enjoyment in social situations, work, and learning environments. Some even pursue fewer social activities because of the condition.”

Handy adds, these impacts appear to increase with age as the older adults reported a broader range of challenges.

The researchers are hoping to find out whether mirror neurons may be at play for individuals who suffer from misokinesia. Mirror neurons activate when an individual moves but they also activate when the individual sees others move. That’s where the term “mirror” comes from since we “mirror” the movements of others in our brain.

“These neurons help us understand other people and the intention behind their movements,” says Jaswal. “They are linked to empathy. For example, when you see someone get hurt, you may wince as well, as their pain is mirrored in your own brain and that causes you to experience their emotions and empathize with them.”

She adds: “A reason that people fidget is because they’re anxious or nervous so when individuals who suffer from misokinesia see that, they may mirror it and feel anxious or nervous as well.”

The researchers are hoping to examine this more closely in their future research as well as whether find out if there’s a genetic component to the sensitivity.

“To those who are suffering from misokinesia, ‘You are not alone. Your challenge is common and it's real. As a society, we need to recognize that a lot of you suffer silently from this visual challenge that it can adversely impact your ability to work, learn in school, and enjoy social situations’,” says Handy. “It’s a widely shared challenge that no one has ever really talked about. By starting this discussion, there is reason for hope in better understanding and outcomes.”

 - This press release was originally published on the University of British Columbia website